Photos by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.14
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick 7555 N Pima Rd Scottsdale, AZ 85258
Year Opened: 2011 Capacity: 11,000
Rafting the Arizona Fall League
Salt River Fields at Talking Stick is the spring training complex for the Colorado Rockies and the Arizona Diamondbacks. It also hosts the Salt River Rafters, a baseball team in the Arizona Fall League (AFL). The Arizona Fall League is a developmental instructional baseball league played in various spring training complexes in the Greater Phoenix area. The season lasts a little over a month, during October and November. Major league teams send some of their most highly touted prospects to play in the league for additional practice.
Like many of the AFL teams, the Rafters have moved around since their inaugural season in 1992.
Grand Canyon Rafters
Tempe Diablo Stadium
1993 - 1996
Tempe Diablo Stadium
1997 - 2005
Grand Canyon Rafters
2006 - 2010
2011 - Present
Salt River Rafters
Salt River Fields
The Rafters captured the 2011, 2014, and 2019 Arizona Fall League championships.
Salt River Fields has beautiful landscaping inside and out, and the concourses are nice and wide. It is a favorite for Arizona Fall League visitors.
MLB changed the Fall League schedule format this 2023 season. The season has fewer afternoon games. Those games now start at 2:30pm (the hottest part of the day) vs 12:30pm in previous seasons. Evening games still start at 6:30pm. This schedule makes attending a double header difficult because of rush hour traffic. I hope they consider reverting the afternoon start time back to 12:30pm next season.
Food & Beverage 3
One concession stand (to the left of the entrance) is open during AFL games.
It sells a chicken finger basket ($15), an Angus burger ($11.25), a jumbo hot dog ($6), pizza ($11 - $12), nachos, fries, peanuts, popcorn, and candy ($4.50 – $7). I had a jumbo hot dog. It was jumbo but not tasty. A large Pepsi-brand fountain soda is $7.50, Gatorade costs $6, and bottled water runs $5.25. Canned beers (Coors, Blue Moon, Dos Equis, Papago Orange Blossom) sell for $8.50 - $15.50.
A stand-alone adult beverage kiosk sells draft beers, canned hard seltzers, a few Arizona canned brews, bombers, wine, and cocktails ($9 - $15.50). Prices are major league high. Fans, however, can bring in their own water, food, and snacks.
A smart and unique option at Salt River Fields this 2023 season is roasted peanuts sold in a brown paper bag. Fans can place their shells in the bag (vs. on the stadium floor). More stadiums should do that.
Beautiful indoor and outdoor landscaping adorns the facility. This includes an attractive arrangement of cactus gardens, desert terrain, hardy scrub bushes, and lots of rocks. The structure fits in well with its surroundings and the environment. Visitors can observe a picturesque mountain range in the distance.
The Rafters dugout and bullpen are on the third base side. By game time, almost the entire seating area is shaded. The second level suites are not used during a Rafters game. The outfield berms and concourse are closed. Besides that, the Rafters offer open seating; feel free to sit wherever desired.
The seats are plenty wide, have cup holders, and legroom is superb at Salt River Fields. Sections 112 and 212 are directly behind home plate. Nets run past the ends of the dugouts so only the last few sections are net free.
Salt River Fields Behind Home, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey
The sound person plays a variety of music choices pregame. Unfortunately, he or she plays the music loud. And ‘artificial noise’ and forced music (like Clap, Clap, Clap Your Hands, or the Addams Family) is blared between some pitches and batters. Seats closer to the field are farther from the speakers. The sound person also plays music when the PA announces the starting lineups, making it difficult to complete a scorecard. Bring earplugs if your ears are sensitive to loud music.
The scoreboard shows the lineups, line score, current pitcher and batter, the time, and temperature. The team shop has paper rosters and starting lineups. The scoreboard operator does an honorable job keeping it up to date with any player changes. All nicely done. You’ll see way more fans keeping score at Fall League games than at MLB or spring training games.
ABS (automatic ball-strike system) is used at Salt River Fields during Rafter games.
If you do nothing else when spending time in Scottsdale, visit the USS Arizona Memorial Gardens directly across from Salt River Fields’ home plate parking lot. It is a memorial of the WWII Dec 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and a remembrance of those soldiers who served and gave their lives. Columns of light form the outline of the battleship, which illuminate at twilight.
The Urge TapHouse Kitchen is 3 ½ miles from the ballpark. It offers craft beers, cocktails, and diverse and delicious food dishes.
The stadium is next to The Pavilions at Talking Stick shopping center. Plenty of chain restaurants and places to eat/dine at before or after a Rafters game are within the shopping area: Buffalo Wild Wings (wings and beer), Angry Crab Shack (seafood), Blazin’ Mongolian BBQ (Asian – create your own stir fry), Red Robin (burgers), Filiberto’s (Mexican), and more. Fast food chains like McDonald’s, Chipotle, Blimpie, Arby’s, and pizza parlors dot the shopping area.
An escape room, indoor skydiving, and one of those movie theaters that serve gourmet movie fare are other entertainment venues found in The Pavilions. Several golf courses are within a few miles, as is the Butterfly Wonderland - America’s largest butterfly atrium. Besides butterflies, it has a 3D theater and various insect displays.
Talking Stick Resort and Casino is just across the Loop 101, less than a three-mile drive from the ballpark.
For nearby lodgings, a Great Wolf Lodge (and water park) is across the parking lot. For more affordable rooms, a Staybridge Hotel and a Comfort Suites are both within walking distance (less than ½ mile). A Hampton Inn & Suite is across the Loop 101 (near the casino).
For other sports in the area, visit the other two East Valley Fall League Stadiums: Sloan Park and Scottsdale Stadium. A trip to Tempe, AZ, and an ASU football, basketball, or soccer game is a tad over 10 miles from the ballpark.
Salt River Fields draw the largest crowds for the Fall League. The early part of the season sees 325 – 400 fans on weekdays and over 500 on weekends. Attendance increases as the season progresses. The fans are retired folks, snowbirds, scouts, Dbacks fans, autograph hounds, and supporters of the game of baseball.
Salt River Fields Autograph Hunter, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey
Since the Rafters have a lot of Diamondback minor leaguers on the team, a large group of diehard Diamondback fans is in attendance. These fans cheer heartily for any Diamondback that comes to the plate or when one takes the mound. However, they certainly applaud good plays regardless of team or player.
When the sound person isn’t playing the music too loud, it is easy to strike up a conversation with any visitor at a Fall League game.
Salt River Fields is located just west of the Loop 101 Pima Fwy at the Indian Bend Rd exit. Park in the lot behind home plate off Pima Rd as that is closest to the main entranceway. When attending an afternoon game (2:35 pm), you shouldn’t hit much traffic on Loop 101 getting to the game. Give yourself some extra travel time leaving and when attending a weekday evening game (6:35 pm) because of heavier rush hour traffic.
When flying in for a Rafters game, the closest airport is Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (about 18 miles southwest of the stadium). Public transportation is not available for AFL Rafters games.
The concourse is wide open, and fans can see all the playing action while walking it. The ease of moving around the stadium during a game is admirable, though be cautious of uneven step heights when walking up and down the seating aisles.
Two sets of clean and serviceable restrooms are open at Salt River Fields for a Rafters game.
Accessible parking, access, and seating options are available for those with physical disabilities, wheelchairs, or strollers. It appears the handicapped parking fills up quickly so get there early if you need one of those.
Fans can bring in clear sports bags. Visitors walk through a metal detector, and if the detector beeps, security checks the bags and carried items.
Return on Investment 3
Ticket prices have increased, though it’s still a good deal for seeing professional baseball: $12 for adults, $10 for kids over 12 and seniors (55+), children under 12 get in free.
Fans can sit anywhere they want. The AFL sells season ticket packages (single or double), worth the investment if you and/or a friend plan on attending more than 10 or 15 games.
The stadium does not charge for parking. Concession prices are high but similar to other AFL ballparks.
Outside the stadium, the Keli McGregor Trail remembers the late Rockies president, Keli S. McGregor, a key contributor in bringing this ballpark complex to Scottsdale. I recommend strolling down this short trail behind the home plate entrance.
Salt River Fields Landscaping, Photo by Meg Minard, Stadium Journey
The USS Arizona Memorial Garden is worth an extra mention. It is a must-visit when attending a Rafters game.
The use of the ABS and the challenge system is worth noting at Salt River Fields. ABS allows pitchers, hitters, or catchers to challenge an umpire's ball or strike call. The system allows up to three failed challenges per game. It takes less than 15 seconds to declare, replay the pitch, and continue the game.
Although customer service isn’t as superb as it used to be, attending a Rafters game is still a fine visit for the Fall League. It is one of the most beautiful of the Fall League venues.
Get to the game early, walk around the park, check the USS Arizona Memorial Garden, find a seat, and enjoy the wonderful game of baseball at the ballpark.